Rohingya refugees unsure of returning to Myanmar

Rajeev Bhattacharyya
 COX’S BAZAR (BANGLADESH), Nov 21 – Many Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar are doubtful of returning to their homes in Myanmar’s Rakhine state engulfed by violence, riots and a brutal crackdown by the army since last August. Around six lakh Rohingya are estimated to have crossed over to Bangladesh and they join two lakh of earlier Rohingya settlers in the coastal district in camps and at other locations.Most of the refugees, who had arrived in 1978 and 1992, had settled in Chittagong, some granted citizenship, while others migrated to the Middle East and Southeast Asia. The subsequent batches that arrived in Cox’s Bazar in 1994 followed the same path, but many among them are still lodged in camps. There were some migrants from this group who claimed to have been expelled from Myanmar for the second time last year. All these categories of people have accepted the hard reality that returning to Myanmar is no longer an option.

The batches of refugees who had shifted since last year are in a state of flux and desperately making efforts to survive and settle down in the government-provided space at Ukhia and Teknaf. Only a handful among them has evinced a desire to return to Myanmar but only under “full security” and after a commitment that their villages would not be raided again.

But most of the migrants this correspondent interacted with were casting aspersions on the intention of the Myanmar government’s recent declaration of allowing them to return. Very few among them would be able to produce the documents that the Myanmar government would demand as a precondition for repatriation.

And unlike the previous episodes, the crackdown this time around had been quite different in Rakhine. It was on a much larger scale and accentuated by the participation of noncombatants in large numbers from among the Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya.

Some migrants at one of the camps expressed grave concern over confiscation of their lands by the ‘Mogh’ (local Buddhists). According to a report, the exodus of the Rohingya has left more than 70,000 acres of planted rice paddy abandoned in northern Rakhine and in need of harvesting by January. Land-grabbing, it said, has already surfaced in some zones which could be a further disincentive for the refugees to think about accepting the offer from the Myanmar government.

The Bangladesh government seems to have understood that Naypyidaw is in no mood to allow repatriation of the Rohingya. An island called Thengar Char in the Bay of Bengal has been identified for a permanent settlement of the refugees. But the island is flood-prone and it remains to be seen if the plans can actually be implemented.

Meanwhile, some local radical organisations owing allegiance to the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami have begun a silent campaign to dissuade the Rohingya from returning to Rakhine. A formidable Rohingya presence in Cox’s Bazar also serves the interests of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) and agencies from different countries.

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